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Returning to the present after Lydia’s death, James goes home to Marilyn and confesses to his affair. James and Marilyn argue and talk bitterly about feeling different—James for being Chinese and Marilyn for wanting to be a doctor. Marilyn orders James to leave. He tells her they should pretend they never met and drives off. Upset, Nathan also drives off. Marilyn tears apart the science posters, books, and prizes in Lydia’s room. But when she finds the Betty Crocker cookbook that Lydia had hidden, Marilyn suddenly realizes it is not science but her mother whom Lydia loved. Hannah then comes in, and Marilyn embraces her the way Hannah has always wanted her to do.
Nathan drives to a liquor store and acquires two bottles of whiskey, which he drinks in his car until he’s drunk and throws up. Officer Fiske finds him and takes him home. Meanwhile, as James drives toward Toledo, he remembers that Marilyn was not happy when he suggested they forget their life together had happened. He realizes that his wife wants a different career, not a different marriage. James suddenly understands how much he has misunderstood.
In this chapter, the lack of communication and empathy that has been emblematic of the relationships between the Lees begins to heal. The conversation between Marilyn and James is strained; they have spent years talking past each other and misunderstanding each other’s needs, and these problems can’t be solved or overcome in a single night. The fight seems to rupture them again, but through the simple act of speaking to each other about how they feel, they make an important step toward healing. Listening to each other talk, even in anger, has started to dismantle some of the emotional walls they erected over the years. Their attempts at empathy and honesty signal that James and Marilyn are making an effort to build a life they can both thrive in, even in the shadow of Lydia's death.